20 Rules for Success from Female Billionaire Martha Stewart

female billionaire martha stewart's rules of success
Image credit: David Shankbone under Attribution 2.0 Generic, no changes made.

Did you know Martha Stewart was a female billionaire?

I bet you didn’t.

She’s not anymore, but at one point, she reached that level.

It’s interesting how unaware we are that really well-known female celebrities are billionaires even though they’re in the minority and should be celebrated.

I didn’t know Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, and J.K. Rowling were until I did some research.

I read Martha’s book on success. This book is literally on how you can achieve success. It’s staggering how many successful people have written $10 books on these topics, yet no one is aware of them, let alone read them.

This book was a great read. There was a lot of lessons I really think that many women can relate to and I think it’s one of the best books to read for a women looking to become wealthy, happy, and successful.

Here are the top rules of success I picked up from the book:

“Without an open-minded mind, you can never be a great success.” -Martha Stewart

female billionaire martha stewart's rules of success
Image credit: David Shankbone under Attribution 2.0 Generic, no changes made.


1. Shit Happens and That’s OK

Martha Stewart had a lot happen to her.

When she was building her catering service, she accidentally burned the most important meal. She faced lawsuits. She had to serve time in jail.

Her lesson from all of this is that bad stuff happens to everyone. You just got to brush it off and make the best with it. It will all be OK in the end.

This reminds me of a quote by billionaire John Paul DeJoria:

“In the end, everything will be OK. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”

Martha has proven this to be true. She’s 74 years old and is often seen having a great time on Ellen.

It’s especially inspiring because she used to be a model as a teen. You assume that supermodels have perfect lives, but everyone has tough times.

2. You Might Have To Try Out Many Things To Find Your Passion… And That’s OK.

Modern society might make it seem that if you don’t find your passion by the time you graduate college, you’re screwed.

This isn’t true. 

Warren Buffett has said that you’re not guaranteed to find your passion on the first job you get out of school. And that’s OK.

Martha tried numerous jobs after school, including selling and trading stocks as a stock broker. Oftentimes, a job looked so awesome to her on the outside.

But when you peek behind the curtain, you realize it’s a lot less glamorous and fun than it appears. 

Talk to people who do the job already to learn about how jobs are actually like. Shadow or intern to get experience. Try them out yourself.

3. Don’t Be Deaf To the Right Advice

Most entrepreneurs who start a venture turn a deaf ear to everyone’s advice and feedback. While this can be partially a good thing, it can also be a bad thing.

A healthy balance is key.

It can be good because your idea might have potential and you don’t want the naysayers to deter you.

It can be a bad thing because your idea might need tweaking to actually succeed. Therefore, listen to mentors and successful people whose opinions you value. Seek people who will give you objective feedback.

4. Start Off Thrifty

A lot of entrepreneurs look for investor money when they don’t need it. It’s actually a curse in disguise.

Getting a lot of money initially will only support a false belief that you need tons of money to do things. It will encourage you to spend frivolously.

In truth, a lot of businesses can get great results with very little investor money.

I think Martha is addressing the current era where people are seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in needless venture money because it’s the “cool” thing to do.

Martha was incredibly thrifty throughout her business journey.

  • She told employees how to save food by cutting vegetables like tomatoes better.
  • She worked from her own kitchen to save money.
  • She never took on debt.
  • She re-invested her profits.
  • She turned off lights and air conditioning to unused rooms immediately.
  • She demanded exact numbers to how much her goods cost and expenses cost to check on things.

This reminds me of Jeff Bezos of Amazon. He yelled at someone for buying a TV for the employee room without permission. And this was well into Amazon being a multi-million dollar success already.

5. Have a Business That’s Easy to Start and Easy to Explain

Martha recommends never starting a business that is too complex. A business also has to be very easy to explain to the customer and easily marketable.

An example she gives is “24 Hour Locksmiths.” The whole business is easily explained in that three word phrase.

6. Different Doesn’t Mean Better

Martha points to numerous businesses that didn’t do something radically innovative to succeed.

She points to Dominoes. They didn’t invent pizzas. They just found a model for delivering pizzas to more people faster.

Trying to reinvent the wheel can be much harder to succeed in.

7. Re-purpose Content

Martha Stewart is a master of re-purposing. She said she took a recipe and re-purposed in all of the following ways:

  1. Cooked it on her TV show to 10 million people.
  2. Put it on her website Marthastewart.com.
  3. Put it in her book, which sold at least 500,000 copies.

With social media, you can not re-purpose content on multiple platforms. Consider using a free graphic maker like Canva, Pablo, or Picmonkey to create images that work for Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

8. Use The “3 Items” Technique

Martha says 3 things are always critical to business success. She uses 3 items to represent these: a microscope, a telescope, and a 90-degree angle inspector.

The microscope means always examining the smallest details and understanding all the tiniest nuances of your business.

The telescope means looking to the future and understanding the long-term vision of your business so you don’t emphasize short-term profit and sacrifice your future.

The 90-degree angle inspector means examining everything about your current economic landscape: what your competitors are doing, what the industry is like, how others are standing apart, and how you are doing in comparison.

9. Having a Great Lawyer, accountant, and insurance policy can save you in the long run

Martha and many of her business friends found that they lost a lot of money because they chose not to get a great lawyer, accountant, and insurance policy from the start.

They decided to skip out on these because they didn’t have much money. 

They ended up spending more money in legal battles, accounting errors, and unexpected accidents than they would have if they just got one from the start.

It’s also important that you get great ones. Having mediocre ones cost them a lot too.

For the insurance point, I noted that it was more important for physical stores with lots of inventory.

One of Martha’s friends lost $600,000 of goods from unexpected natural disasters, which were primarily floods. She would have gone bankrupt if it wasn’t for the insurance policy she purchased beforehand.

10. Have A Personal Brand

Martha, as well as many of her business friends like P. Diddy, succeeded by being the face of her company.

Having a personality as the brand of your company comes with pros and cons.

The pros include:

  • You stand out from boring, corporate-type companies.
  • You add personality and flair.
  • People relate to you better.
  • People establish more of a relationship and connection with you.
  • They’re more likely to buy.

The cons include:

  • If you screw up the reputation of yourself, it can ruin the company.
  • Legal battles can affect your brand.
  • You always on alert to keep up your image.
  • It can be a obligation that can last a lifetime.
  • It can be hard to scale up or operate without you. Your company is prone to falling apart if you die or leave from unexpected causes.

From what I can tell, a personality brand seems to work better if you’re a small company or starting from zero. It’s an easy and cheap way of marketing and standing out.

Many other companies like Dominoes, Subway, and Virgin use personalities to do this. And they do it well.

Decide for yourself if it’s worth trying.

11. The Customer Comes First

Martha did everything she could to put the customer first. She made a point of constantly pleasing and delighting the customer in every way she could.

While it may seem common sense, you’d be surprised how many companies really don’t care.

She gives an example of a car that had mirrors that wouldn’t have a good angle to let you do your make-up. She realized it was a huge product flaw. It was clear the company didn’t think enough about who would be using the product.

She sent in mail complaining about the issue and never heard back. There was not even a “We got your message! We’ll take it into account.”

Very recently, I had a poor interaction with a gas station owner that proved this. I would drive by this gas station almost daily.

One day, I went in to pay for gas with cash. The man behind the register clearly owned the place by how he carried himself.

The issue was that he clearly didn’t care. He gave me a hard time about not knowing my gas station number and acted like it was my fault for everything. He scowled the whole time. He clearly didn’t want to be there.

I ended up deciding to pay for $1 worth of gas when he snapped at me for how much I wanted.

He lost out on a ton of business from me. I make it a point to go to a different station now.

That’s a quick example of this happening constantly.

Delighting your customers isn’t new advice. Warren Buffett has mentioned it. Jeff Bezos has made it one of his main goals. Yet it’s staggering how few people actually do it.

12. Constantly Listen To Customer Feedback

Martha calls her customers the best consultant she could ever have.

She is constantly seeking feedback from her customers. She sends out online surveys, talks to customers in person, asks for opinions in her magazines, and does everything she can to get feedback.

Any possible feedback she can get about anything from customer service to paint color she will absorb.

But she doesn’t just absorb it. She takes action on it. She takes that feedback into account and makes her products better. She makes her service.

This beautiful feedback loop creates even better value for her customers, making her more money.

Martha is really a fanatic about it. And I think it’s a key trait to truly great business people.

13. Write a Business Plan. Do Your Research

Martha highly recommends writing a business plan before you start to get a better sense of what you need to do, how you can get there, and a realistic picture of what things are like.

She gives an example of a friend of hers who succeeded in an industry because she did research at her local Chamber of Commerce first and knew all the numbers behind her business. She knew how much every item would cost her, she saw the growing demand of the products she bought, and all the math worked out.

Most people don’t do this beforehand and fail because of it.

In my studies of successful business people, I’ve got contradictory advice on this. Vishen Lakhiani of Mindvalley, a $100 Million company, said his first third businesses failed when he wrote a detailed business plan, but he succeeded when he didn’t. His third business was one he fell into, though, where the demand naturally pulled him into a business.

Overall, I still recommend writing a business plan rather than not doing so because I’ve gotten more advice to do so from successful people and failed businesses who didn’t. But keep in mind that your plans will change as the real world is often different than what you imagined it to be.

14. Recognize Market Demand That Isn’t There

Martha has a saying:

“Don’t accept anything if you think it can be better.”

She’s good at recognizing market demand for goods and services that aren’t there and she capitalizes on it.

For example, she realized that a lot of women wanted a simple, fast, nutritious, and delicious set of recipes. Their mothers didn’t teach them to cook. So she made a magazine to address this that did really well.

She’s always surveying her audience to get these ideas.

I’ve noticed a lot of successful entrepreneurs do the same thing. They didn’t just start a business. It was based on solid lack of service or product that should have been there.

For example, John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur on Fire loved listening to podcasts but didn’t see one that aired daily. As a consumer, he really wanted want so he ended up making it himself. Now, it’s a 7 figure business.

Always be on the look out for gaps in the market.

15. Position Yourself In A New Way

Martha noted a demand that wasn’t being met in the market. Then, she positioned herself in a way that stood out and appealed to people.

She noticed that home keeping was being viewed as a chore by most women. She decided to show people it was an Art.

She spoke with press and showed how cleaning, cooking, child-rearing, and other tasks could be fun and were a skill that could be developed. The press were initially skeptical and confused. But overtime, they started understanding what she was doing and the trend caught on.

It lead to a very successful business in that niche.

16. Be Clear and Consistent with Your Cultural Values. Make Sure Everyone Knows About Them

Martha made it a point to be crystal clear with her cultural values. She made sure to constantly remind her employees about them so they didn’t forget.

She recommends putting them up publicly somewhere so people know what the big goal is that everyone should be striving towards. It also helps keep people in check when they’re deciding between priorities.

She also has sayings that not only strengthen her personal brand, but remind people of her cultural values. Her most famous one is, “It’s a good thing.”

She gives the example of FedEx, an incredibly successful business who said they will get anything delivered overnight no matter what it cost them.

There’s plenty of companies with crystal clear corporate values if you look around. For example, Dominoes motto is “Delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free.”

Her last example really nailed the point home. She mentions a guitar company that used to stand for the highest quality instruments but slacked off.

A new leader came on board and he completely revamped everything. He demanded that no second-rate instrument would ever leave the factory. To make it a point, he ordered someone to chainsaw second-rate guitars in front of employees.

This company ended up having 20 to 30% annual growth for decades to come. Nowadays, their customers will sneak into pad-locked garbage disposals to try to get just a piece of their guitars for free. That’s the quality that they’re brand is known for. 

17. Maintain a focus on quality

Martha has smartly cut into profits occasionally to deliver quality. She doesn’t do it excessively to the detriment of her business but she will definitely do it because she values her customers.

One time, she chose to put raspberries on her cake even though they were incredibly expensive at the time because they made the cake look priceless.

She was smart though. To save money, she placed berries on the outside of tarts rather than in the middle to have the look and presence of the berries, while using up less.

This commitment to quality ends up resulting in long-term loyalty of customers that make up for short-term losses with long-term profits.

She always get tons of letters from her customers marveling at the quality of her products, magazine, and material.

18. Consider Having a partner

There are many benefits to a business partner.

These include:

  • Support when you’re having a tough time and want to give up
  • You don’t have to do the entire workload
  • They cover your workload

Make sure you get the right partner though. The billionaire John Paul DeJoria said that you don’t want to partner with family or friends because you get a bias and nepotism on everything you do, from decisions to how tough to be on them.

I think another huge part of a business partner is trust. You have to find one you can trust to not screw your over and steal your money. It’s crazy how many stories I hear of stuff like this happening.

Many successful business partnerships were formed from long relationships beforehand, such as Buffet and Munger, Gates and Allen, Jobs and Woz, or the founders of Amway.

If you do go with someone you’ve known for a while, make sure you can avoid nepotism or favoritism from creeping in. Find someone who can actually help you and are actually strong in areas you are weak in. For example, let’s say you’re great at the business-side, but they’re great at accounting or engineering.

19. Take your time hiring right

Martha recommends interviewing at least 5 people before making your hiring decision.

The first person may seem perfect in every way, but you could be biased because you’re desperate to hire or you haven’t compared him or her to the other candidates.

Ask for and check references.

Observe how they act on the job when they don’t think you’re around. Martha had her own TV show called The Apprentice. She found candidates that seemed great but weren’t behind the curtains. She observed their behavior thanks to the hidden cameras of the show and realized they weren’t a fit.

Try putting candidates in a temporary trial hire period to observe them.

Martha looks for hard work and ethics.

20. If You Don’t enjoy it more than making money, it’s not the right thing

This one’s interesting.

Martha says that if you don’t enjoy serving and helping your customers more than making money, then it is not the right business for you. Keep looking. 

That’s a profound statement because most people don’t follow this rule. They hate their job and do it for the money.

It’s normal to not find your dream job or dream business the first time you try. But it’s up to you to keep moving towards what you want rather than stay stagnant.

Conclusion and Review

I was really surprised about this book.

I thought it may be on just general tips on how to be successful in life, but it really focused on tangible, specific business advice. And I loved it for doing this.

I think this book is specifically for people wanting to start a business. It definitely has a lot of tips that women entrepreneurs can relate to and succeed with. However, it isn’t overbearing like Lean In For Grads and focuses so much on female empowerment that men can’t get value from the book.

This is a book worth reading more than once and referencing as you grow your business.

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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